This is really cool! The researchers at CERN have discovered a particle moving faster than the speed of light. Via the New York Times…
One of the very pillars of physics and Einstein’s theory of relativity — that nothing can go faster than the speed of light — was rocked Thursday by new findings from one of the world’s foremost laboratories.
European researchers said they clocked an oddball type of subatomic particle called a neutrino going faster than the 186,282 miles per second that has long been considered the cosmic speed limit.
So how much faster was it going? A mere 60 billionths of a second. The BBC has a great piece on how the experiments were carried out, and why researchers are being very skeptical with their results…
Neutrinos come in a number of types, and have recently been seen to switch spontaneously from one type to another.
The team prepares a beam of just one type, muon neutrinos, sending them from Cern to an underground laboratory at Gran Sasso in Italy to see how many show up as a different type, tau neutrinos.
In the course of doing the experiments, the researchers noticed that the particles showed up 60 billionths of a second sooner than light would over the same distance – a tiny fractional change, but a consistent one.
The team measured the travel times of neutrino bunches some 15,000 times, and have reached a level of statistical significance that in scientific circles would count as a formal discovery.
But the group understands that what are known as “systematic errors” could easily make an erroneous result look like a breaking of the ultimate speed limit, and that has motivated them to publish their measurements.
There’s also a lot of great discussion going on in the comments section on the BBC article. My favorite is this one…
This is the thing I find so fascinating about science. As Tim Minchin put it, “Science adjusts it’s views based on what’s observed”. This discovery could one day change our understanding of the universe and the way in which things work. Doesn’t meant previous scientists were wrong; all science is build on the foundation of others work. That’s not arrogance, it’s a thirst for knowledge.
Couldn’t have said it better myself. I’m excited to see how this all shakes out!